Before The Coffee Gets Cold: read-along, part 1

Before the Coffee Gets Cold

Before The Coffee Gets Cold,
by Toshikazu Kawaguchi,
translated by Geoffrey Trousselot
was first published in 2015
Literary fiction/fantasy

Read-along with
Julie Anna at Julie Anna’s Books
part 1

📚 Come this way to read our answers to her pre-read questions

📚 Here are my questions about the first part, and Our answers

1. Welcome to Words And Peace, Julie Anna, I’m so thrilled we are reading Before the Coffee Gets Cold together. For my readers who don’t know you, can you tell us a bit more about yourself, about your blog, and your readings? 

Julie Anna
Hello! My name is Julie Anna, and my blog is called Julie Anna’s Books. It originally started as a lifestyle blog known as Sincerely Julie Anna, but as I fell back into reading regularly after graduating college I converted it to a book blog! I like to read a bit of everything, but my most read genres at the moment are literary fiction and SFF.
2. Last time, we talked about our expectation of what the café would look like. What was your reaction when you discovered it?
I really liked finding that it was a hidden cafe that was so quiet and quaint! I also liked learning about the age of the cafe; it feels like there’s so much history and intrigue to how it gained its power. I don’t think it would be the same if it were a large, heavily frequented cafe.
I also like the idea that it’s so hidden that very few people know about the place, and that it only holds a few tables and seats. So it’s super quiet, and that’s a quality I really enjoy. However, I actually didn’t find it quaint, ad was disappointed to realize it was a windowless basement place. I’m not sure I would often like to go to that sort of place.

3. One of the rules is that you can go back, but actually it won’t change anything to the present. I could stop and ponder this for a long time. How is that even possible? And along the same line, I wonder, then when you are reliving in the past, would you even be aware that you are back in the past?

I was wondering about this myself! The only thing I can think of is that we’re entering a parallel universe, so the future consequences of their actions only impact that universe and not the other. It seems like Fumiko was aware as she was conscious of the fact that she needed to finish the coffee, but in the moment I’m sure it doesn’t feel like you’re in the past. Unless you’re in a dreamlike state where things are changing all around you, I’m sure it must feel so real!

I like your explanation of parallel universes, and I just read a French novel featuring this and quantic physics! Sounds like it would be the only way to work.
You are right, the characters actually seem to be aware they are in the past. And they are even aware of the future, as they remember they have to drink their coffee before it gets cold. So it’s not very logical, but why would our normal logic work in that type of book, lol?

4. The ghost: how do you think she ended up in her current fate? Will she ever be able to leave the café? Did she feel like a real ghost in the story? Or more like an actress actually part of the staff?
I think she’s real because of what she was able to do to Fumiko. Perhaps her spirit will be able to depart the cafe when another takes her place? Or maybe the spirits remain but are not visible in the way that this ghost was. I’m curious to see if we learn more about the role of the ghost or if that’s one of the unexplained mysteries of the cafe.
To be honest, I’m a bit dubious about this “ghost”. It/she seems to me too conveniently to leave her seat and stay long enough in the bathroom for the customers (at least in the first two parts) to go back to the past and come back.
Plus her rage when the customer tries to push her away from her scene, and then her way of going back impassibly to read afterwards, all this looks very theatrical.
AND she drinks coffee and goes to the bathroom, lol.
At this point, it feels to me she’s in cahoots with the waitresses, and she’s actually part of the staff. To fulfill the special mission of this cafe, to help customers revisit their lives and raise their awareness about their deep identity, their significant relationships, and the ultimate meaning of their lives.
This feeling was reinforced by her reaction: she “gave a small nod of acknowledgement” to Kazu right after Fumiko came back from the past. And when Fumiko leaves the cafe:
“The woman in the dress gave a slight smile as she quietly closed the book, a novel titled The Lovers.
I have read somewhere that this novel first came out as a play. Not sure exactly why, but it seems to me that would work well in a play, with the revelation of who the ghost is at the end.
Oh, by the way, what do you make of that?? She is reading a book with that title, which is the title of that part of our book? Is this a story within a story??
5. Which of the rules do you think are fair? Which rule did you find the most maddening? 

I thought that most of the rules were fair, but I do wish these abilities could be taken outside of the cafe. I see how this makes sense in context, but it does limit the possibilities of time travel and the reasons for traveling. I have a feeling that a lot of the patrons that travel do so when they want to understand a person more without risk of saying the wrong thing. But other than that, I think that this rule makes things very limiting.

Same here. The more limiting for me is actually the one related to the title! Sometimes, you need a lot more time than a few minutes to have a deep conversation with someone, especially if there has been some type of misunderstanding or hurt.
Plus, the ghost has the right to have coffee refills, so why not the patrons during their time travel?
6. Being aware of these rules, would you still want to time travel to the past? Why, if it actually doesn’t change anything?
I still think it would be interesting to do for the purpose of taking risks. If I’m unsure how to navigate something, it could be an interesting way to test run something. I’m also worried about the possibility of changing the wrong thing, so in a sense, this feels like a sandbox environment. The rationale for trying it is definitely limited now, but I feel that there still are some benefits.
Hmm, not sure I understand. If it doesn’t have any impact on the present, how can you evaluate it as a test run?
Personally, maybe I would try that travel back in the past if my words hurt somebody, and I could either say something different, or apologize and make sure I don’t hurt the people. But, if it doesn’t change the present, maybe in the present these persons would still feel hurt by my words, so I’m not sure…
7. Do you think Fumiko was satisfied with the knowledge gained as a result of her time travel? What do you think is the ultimate goal of this café?
Partially, yes! I think it at least gave her a little closure on her situation since she wasn’t really able to get that the first time around. However, I feel like she also probably wanted more out of it. To be honest, I found her impatience and attitude a little bit frustrating, and I feel like that contributed to her dissatisfaction with the rules and not being able to change the past. I feel like it helped her understand more of what happened (and I noticed a change in her character at the end from this), but I also think that her feelings towards the relationship itself might be unchanged in some ways.
What she accomplished doesn’t seem much to me, but she does seem happy. As she leaves the cafe, she expresses gratitude to the waitress, she has a sign of reverence to the place itself, and the ways she walks, she seems to have lost her heaviness of heart.As I said above, I think the ultimate goal of this cafe is to help customers revisit their lives and raise their awareness about their deep identity, their significant relationships, and the real meaning of their lives. So ultimately, it’s to help them find happiness in their present circumstances, whatever these are.
8. I found there were a lot of characters in this first part. Do you think we have actually met all the characters of the four parts of the book?
I was wondering this! I think it would be cool if we met them all already, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if we haven’t yet. I think it would be interesting if the next parts covered the patrons that were already there (including the ghost), or even the cafe’s owners and their stories. I liked how Fumiko came across the cafe, but I think it would be interesting if the next parts covered those that are already familiar with how the cafe works.
Ah, I didn’t think about the staff themselves!
I got that feeling that we see in the first pages all the characters we are going to encounter throughout the book, because it felt like a nice theatrical setting – and again, I keep running into the fact that it was originally a play.
9. Are you expecting the four stories to be connected in more ways than just each character trying to revisit the past?
This isn’t my expectation, but I think it would be really nice if it did! I think this ties back to number 8 where if we met all of the characters already, then they might connect in that way. I think that would also contribute to the development of the cafe itself and its overall story and intrigue. It does seem like all of the cafe patrons mostly keep to themselves, but if they were all featured in this story, they may not connect to each other, but I think it would add so much to the cafe’s story itself.
Well, if as you suggested in 8. the staff themselves is going to be involved in the time travel, maybe there’s a deeper connection between all indeed?
If not, maybe we’ll have to come up and add our 5th part!!
Thanks so much Julie Anna for answering my questions to this first part.
Looking forward to yours for part 2!

And Part 2 Q&A is available here, on Julie Anna’s blog.

Part 3 is here

And here part 4


25 thoughts on “Before The Coffee Gets Cold: read-along, part 1

  1. Pingback: Before The Coffee Gets Cold: read-along, pre-read discussion | Words And Peace

  2. Time travel is a curious paradox. We never know how changing a small minor comment in one time frame is going to affect the present / future, and can never say for sure how it will change the other person’s reactions. So, whether to refrain or not?! I got to know that there are actual academic courses on time travel, wish I’d taken one of those in college! 😂


    • wow, I had no idea there were academic courses on the topic, so cool!
      Now there’s a twist in this novel: you can go back to the past, but it is NOT going to change anything to the present!!


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  4. The idea of this secret or hidden cafe is very intriguing to me. Also… the question about whether, if you’re reliving the past, are you even aware of that is such a twisty and fun one! Parallel universes are an interesting explanation and have always been a favorite of mine.


    • I guess there’s no clear answer here, and the author does play with that type of questions all along the book. At one point, a character even realizes that someone is visiting him from the future! Wrap your brain around that one.

      If you love parallel universes, put right away on your TBR The Anomaly, by Le Tellier, to be published in English on 11/23/21 by Other Press:
      I read it in French, it’s fabulous!


  5. I loved reading your answers! It’s interesting seeing the theatrical elements in this as well. A lot of the characters and the setting does represent a theatrical/stage environment! I’m curious to see if that continues in the form of a 5 act structure that you see in plays.


  6. Pingback: Before The Coffee Gets Cold: read-along, part 3 | Words And Peace

  7. I love your question and answers. I would not be frequenting this windowless basement cafe too, not really my type. I loved this book as well!


  8. I don’t always get on with time travel books, because the inconsistencies and paradoxes get to me, but I’m intrigued by this one. Somehow I missed this discussion so I’m happy I happened upon it this month. I’m often intrigued by stories that would work well as plays — their dramatic nature makes them good reads.


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